Of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the hardest one I think — the least pleasant one, certainly — is to admonish the sinner. Maybe it’s better to leave that one to other, holier, people.
And yet, if we are to become the people of mercy Pope Francis asks us to be, if we really want to be “the face of the Father’s mercy,” then we have to enact all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. So get used to the idea of admonishing the sinner, and get cracking. (Echoing a certain presidential candidate, “consider yourself admonished!”)
Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 7:36-49) provides us with two examples of our Lord exercising his divine mercy. The mercy he shows the unnamed woman — not to mention the gratitude and affection he shows her — speaks for itself. But he also shows mercy to Simon the Pharisee. He tactfully and lovingly admonishes him. From this Gospel, and a few other scriptural passages, I’ve deduced how to admonish sinners in four easy steps.
STEP ONE. Admonish yourself first. As our Lord so famously teaches, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7:5.)
- Examine your conscience. Go to confession if need be. Before you talk the talk, make sure you walk the walk!
STEP TWO. Only admonish close friends and relatives. Simon had invited Jesus to his house. Our Lord admonishes him in the context of an established relationship. A respectful and maybe even affectionate relationship.
- Don’t make it your business to admonish acquaintances and frenemies. It is love which will give your admonishment authority, so make sure anyone you admonish knows you love them. Consider building up some capital: 9 words of gratitude or encouragement, for every word of admonishment or correction.
STEP THREE. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Our Lord mentions Simon’s neglect of details and mild inhospitality, but only to illustrate a much more important point: do not permit prejudice and self-satisfaction to blind you.
- The minor defects of others can foster gratitude, rather than complaint. To quote St Josemaría Escrivá:
Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’
Admonition is only called for in the case of substantial sins and defects, which are causing real harm.
STEP FOUR. Pray on it. The Gospels give us only small glimpses into our Lord’s prayer life. It’s apparent he would often withdraw from crowds, and even his own disciples, to spend time alone with God. If we propose to imitate the Lord’s public actions (and as disciples we should!), we must also imitate his habit of prayer.
- Spend time alone, or before the Tabernacle, examining your motivation. Why do you propose to admonish this person? Is it borne of charity, or envy? Charity, or vengeance? Charity, or pettiness? If the answer is anything other than charity, ABORT MISSION!!
STEP FIVE. This one’s important! Admonish a person in private. Have you noticed how our Lord prefaces his words to Simon? “Simon, I have something to say to you.” (Lk 7:40) The Gospel doesn’t specify details, but I like to imagine that the conversation that follows is private, and we only know about it because Simon, in his humility, later made public the Lord’s parable and his correction.
- Fraternal correction is always humbling, but it should never be humiliating. Don’t admonish others via Facebook, blog or Twitter! Speak to them one on one.
Here concludes my five easy steps to admonishing sinners. Maybe calling them easy is a bit of a stretch. But anyway, there’s five of them.